“After the lockdown is over”, former Sony Photographer of the Year Alys Tomlinson told the Guardian in May last year, “I’ll probably look more towards stories around me. In the past, I’ve never felt that inspired by what’s on my doorstep, but you don’t have to go to the Amazon or Antarctica to make interesting pictures.” David Wilson’s latest project, conceived and completed prior to the pandemic, bears that out.
In one sense, The Village finds the photographer on very familiar turf: Llangwm on the Cleddau Estuary – the place he’s called home for the last two decades. But in another, it breaks new ground, departing from the stunning black-and-white images of the Pembrokeshire landscape with which he’s made his name and focusing instead on people. The book’s gentle charm lies in the way it draws the reader into village life as it plays out in church and school, on the touchline of the rugby pitch, and in the local shop. Along the way we meet farmers and artists, builders and model makers, the male voice choir Wrong Direction and the man who taught The Clash’s Joe Strummer to play guitar.
When coronavirus hit, Wilson observes, “[w]hat I had documented during 2019 was put into a state of suspension as our community struggled to come to terms with an altered reality”. In a way, the images collected in The Village are snapshots of a past that already feels distant, despite being taken only two years ago, and sadly some of those who feature in them have since passed away. Yet, from our present vantage point, these affectionate portraits of people and place serve as an even more powerful tribute to the value of community than they did then, telling “a story of hope, continuity and the unconquerable human spirit” that we need to hear now more than ever.
(An edited version of this review has been published on the Buzz website.)